EDITORIAL: Bin Laden’s truce offer could cut both ways
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has apparently offered to cease terrorist operations in European countries if they do not send troops to Muslim nations or “interfere in their [Muslim countries] affairs.” This message was contained in an audiotape and broadcast Thursday by two Arab satellite television networks. The international press says that US CIA officials have confirmed the voice match. For their part, the European governments – notably Britain, France, Germany and Italy – have refused to negotiate the issue with “a terrorist organisation”. What should we make of bin Laden’s message?
It is a clever move on three broad counts: it seeks to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe in the wake of the worst ebb in trans-Atlantic relations since the end of the cold war; it attempts to deepen the fault-line within Europe between the governments and civil society; and it is an indication that Al Qaeda is now attempting to wed its operations to a more pro-active political strategy. The last factor is important because it brings to the fore, for the first time, a visible strategy which the organisation is pursuing.
But there is still the question about timing. Why at this stage? A plausible answer can be that after testing the waters in Spain, Al Qaeda has decided to pursue this strategy. It is interesting to note that the message does not say: “We will kill unless you do this”. It seeks to work the other way round: “We offer peace failing which...” There is a difference between the two ways of sending the message in order to minimise the element of threat or blackmail.
European governments have dismissed the truce offer, but from Al Qaeda’s viewpoint it is directed more at the civil society in Europe than the capitals of Europe. It is no secret that the Bush administration’s allies in Europe, primarily Britain and Spain, have acted in the teeth of opposition from the public. One of them has already paid the price for it by losing the elections. The resentment against the policy was there, but the Madrid bombings gave a fillip to the whole affair. Indeed, questions are already being raised about how many dead bodies or attacks would it take for Al Qaeda to gain the same impact in Britain, for instance.
Nonetheless, sometimes societies react differently to external threats. Saddam Hussain looked at a tattered post-revolution Iran and calculated that this was his opportunity to commit aggression against that country. But the Iraqi invasion in fact served to bond the Iranians together including those who were opposed to the revolution. Similarly, out of the ashes of Dunkirk rose the British resolve against Germany. In Palestine, we see two societies locked in mortal combat, neither giving in to the violence the other is capable of generating. At best, therefore, it is a dicey proposition whether another attack in Europe will serve to get the same results that Al Qaeda hoped for and got in Spain. It is quite likely that the question people will ask is not whether they need to get out of Al Qaeda’s line of fire and leave America alone to fight its battles but whether they can allow themselves to be held hostage by a threat that can only rise if they begin to hightail it. And if they decide to stand up and give resistance, then we are in for another round of violence.
In the meantime, it is important for Western governments to eradicate the causes which create organisations like Al Qaeda. The mere use of fire-brigade strategy is not going to work. There is need to dislocate Al Qaeda from the context in which it grows and from which it draws its strength. g
The policing hotchpotch
On April 14, presiding over a high-level meeting, General Pervez Musharraf signed the death warrant of the Police Order 2002. What began as a major reform measure to depoliticise the police has ended up with a hotchpotch that is likely to not only politicise the force more than before but also adversely impact its functioning and efficiency.
This is how it goes: the federal government, the chief ministers, district nazims and the members of national and provincial assemblies will have an increased role in police affairs. The district nazim has been authorised to write the district police officer’s annual confidential report. The National Public Safety Commission, which was the backbone of the system as originally envisaged is now the federal government’s preserve which has appropriated the Commission’s recommendatory role in the appointment of the provincial police chiefs. Similarly, the chief ministers have now been authorised to appoint the DPOs and the legislators of the ruling party have been given more leverage in police affairs. Originally, both the treasury and oppositions members were to have equal representation on the Provincial Public Safety Commissions. Now the government legislators will have double the representation of the opposition members, and so on.
This essentially means a hermaphroditic conception of the police which goes completely against the grain of the original Police Order. The concept was based on keeping the police away from political pressures. That has been severely compromised, with different politicos at different levels having some input in the appointments and postings of police officers. Thus the possibility of logjams will only increase. The police has never been known for efficient functioning. Now it will be hampered in that task even more. We have already seen the tug-of-war between district and provincial governments. Now we will see a tussle among three players at the federal, provincial and district levels. The changes spell disaster. *